Stealing eggs and wrangling trout
The engine roared as it worked its way through the central highlands. Morning mist perched itself motionless on the hills, the valleys of tan coloured grass sat crisp, punished by a dry summer. As we covered more ground, the darkness of morning gave way to early light. The glow of the rising sun, poked its head up over the ranges to the east. The light rudely shone straight through the windscreen, sharp and bright, forcing us to rub away the slumber from our waking eyes. Within a few hours we reached the highway town where we'd set our rendezvous with Raynor. Before long we were transferring his gear from his truck to mine. We set about for a place to grab some last minute camp supplies, mainly the staples of bacon, eggs and sausage. We hit up the butcher, but I didn't like to look of the eggs. Cage, factory farmed eggs, not good for the chooks that work their so we opted for the fruit and veg store a few shops down. The two boys went in and found the same deal. Damn cage eggs. We decided to put some road behind us and keep a look out for a road side stall selling farm eggs. At least I had a dozen from home, but with three blokes on camp they wouldn't last more than a day.
There was one last stop in town before we'd be highway bound for hours. Gas. Whilst I was filling up the truck, a car sped into the station. An angry looking man ran towards me in a feverish pace, anger set in his eyes. "Those two boys with you?" he asked hurriedly. "Yes.....why?" I replied.
"I believe they stole my eggs, and I have the CCTV footage to prove it. Can I check your esky?" Knowing that the boys wouldn't have stolen the eggs I didn't hesitiate to open the esky. Inside was only food we'd brought from home, no stolen eggs. "Who are you again?" I asked. The man explained that he owned the fruit and veg shop, and his wife had seen the whole event 'go down'. The man headed for the cabin of the truck, and proceeded to talk loudly and angrily at Sam and Raynor (who had no time to figure what the hell was going on). I continued to fill up while the man yelled at Sam, "You covered the eggs with your jacket" then pointed to Raynor "and then you slipped them under yours jumper and walked out!" We where all scratching our heads as the man huffed off in his car, after he'd taken down my number plate, heading for the police station across the road. Dumbfounded I went to pay my bill.
I returned to the truck, where a combination of laughter and puzzlement ensued. The mad grocery store man had my details so I needed to go sort the situation out. Clear the air so to speak. I pulled up out front, the truck rumbling, subtly announcing my frustration. I picked Sam, the bigger of the two friends to accompany me into the store to chat to this fella. I did all the talking, presenting my case not allowing for rebuttal. I explained why we didn't buy his eggs the best way I could. I turned to Sam and asked him "why DIDN'T you steal the eggs?" Sam quickly answered "because they weren't free range, let alone organic".
As soon as I started explaining my beliefs in regards to food, that I'm an real food advocate blah blah blah, the angry man started to realise that I was more of a hippy than a redneck (as my appearance initially suggested). The clincher was when I stated with concern, that I required eggs because I was planning on cooking zucchini fritters that evening. I needed eggs to bind the whole meal together. It was then that I realised what a total hippy douche bag I sounded like. In slow motion, the words came from my mouth, and in slow motion, I realised there was no going back. In the end I'm not sure what the guy though of us, but I gather that it was a stark contrast to what he initially thought of us! Zucchini fritters WTF.
With that 'interesting' start to our trip we headed north east, slowly humming on the Hume Highway. Its a deadly highway, a boring road. It can lull you into a robotic state, crosses mark where people have fallen asleep behind the wheel and subsequently crashed into the roadside trees like a back handed volley. Thankfully we had a hilarious event to keep us entertained. We laughed most of the way up.
As we got closer to Ray's cabin we where welcomed by valley country. Where the river snakes its way through the country one turn after another. The river floats through paddocks dotted with diary cows who meander about, feeding on irrigated grass, bolstering their already plump udders. The valley country was shadowed by grand mountains, dressed neatly in eucalyptus. The mountains stand watch over the valley, as they have for all ages. One final bend and we enter the small town of Mitta Mitta. A town boasting two outstanding waterways, the Snowy Creek and the Mitta Mitta River. Behind the town, perched on a hill, sat a humble pine cabin, our home for the next few days.
Without hesitation we unloaded our gear and set out for a session on the water. The Mitta was flowing fast, it seems a lot of water is being artificially fed from the Dartmouth dam to help farmers irrigate the last of the summer crops. This made the fishing tricky as the water was fast, in fact it was too fast. Most of the spots that would normally be good fishing where under deep, heavy flowing water. River crossings were dangerous and after a few hairy river crossings we decided it was best to fish the slower water and not attempt any further crossings. By late afternoon we found ourselves on the Snowy Creek, where the water was slow and calm. The creek snaked its way through the ranges, its flow more subdued than the wildness of the Mitta. I looked for any sign of trout, a splash, a rise. Nothing. After a long day on the road, the egg incident, and no sign of fish, we were all a bit drained. A good idea was clearly to head back to the cabin and cook those zucchini fritters. Maybe we'd wash them down with a few quiet ales.
The following day we spent mostly on the upper reaches of the creek. By the afternoon, dark cloud rolled in above us, eventually dropping a payload of rain as we fished the creek. It's been so long since I've been caught in the rain, so I relished the experience. It's been a dry summer. What a feeling it was to be fishing a river so remote, so wild with cool rain dropping down on us, washing away summer from our minds. We had no luck on the creek and decided to check out the Dartmouth dam. As we drove higher up the hills, the clouds firmly set in. The rain became consistently heavy enough to make instant waterfalls on the cut out of the enormous dam wall. Looking out across the dam the hills where now blanketed by fog, clouds and rain all hinting that our summer had suddenly turned to Autumn. It was right on cue too! The second day of Autumn and we had this cool rain arrive. Amazing. I don't think it will last though, it's more of a sign of things to come.
The dam was a pretty as a postcard. We sat still, leaning against the truck simply absorbing the vista.
Our final day on the water was upon us. Still no fish had graced our nets, but somehow we'd pushed that aside and we were still filled with optimism (possibly blind stupidity). We fished the big river, with its fast runs and bubbling turns. Cast after cast, one fly change after another and talk of clever strategic approaches all garnished zero fish. It was during one of those moments of rest, where Sam noticed a large trout in the water close by. A chunk of flesh had been removed, possibly from an attacking cormorant. The fish was lucky enough to have survived, but then came another predator. Me.
Without much thought I jumped in the water to make the most of the presented opportunity. This fish was lively, and slimy too! I couldn't get a grip so I yelled out "GRAB THE NET!!!!" Sam raced up to the truck where Raynor was, the two of them looking desperately for the landing net. "Its not here!!" someone yelled. This fish was not getting away, we where desperate men, hungry and desperate fishing men! I tried everything, fingers in the fishes mouth, two hands front and back, I even tried using my hat as some sort of net. Water was splashing everywhere, it looked like I was wrestling something big, it was a Steve Irwin moment. Suddenly I got enough of a hold to toss the damn fish clear out of the water into the long grass on the bank. Down she went, with desperate Raynor following behind with a rugby spear tackle "I'VE GOT IT! I'VE GOT IT!" he screamed. Covered in water I got to the bank and held the fish. A great size fish, enough to feed us for dinner. Sure our new approach to fishing was slightly unconventionally, but our mission was to acquire fish. After the fish was literally in the bag, we paused to realise the hilarity of the situation. The mud and the blood, the screaming and the yelping. Three fully grown men trying to get a fish for dinner, three men ready to do anything to get that fish in the bag!
That night we sat around the fire, laughing at the weekends events. We talked of the beauty of the creek, the rain that shifted the season from summer to autumn. We laughed about the egg incident and the trout wrangling.
The stars came out brighter that night. Our friendship all together a bit stronger from our experience. Late into the evening we sipped single malt whiskey and told tall tales. Sure our fisherman's bag had been filled with a catch of pure random opportunity, we all agreed that its not always about catching the fish. Sometimes its just about the time you spend on the water. Its about spending time with mates. Its about spending time in the deep country, away from everything that blocks us from living with nature. Oh and it's also about stealing eggs.